Christmas bird counts taking flight

Blue jays are commonly found across Alberta during the Christmas Bird Count.

Cities and towns across Alberta have begun the annual Christmas Bird Count, which takes place every year between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. Each local area plans its own bird count and provides data to the National Audubon Society.

Christmas Bird Counts are organized by volunteer groups at the local level. Thousands of volunteers participate each year, making the Christmas Bird Count one of the world’s largest sets of wildlife survey data.

The results of the bird count play an important role in protecting bird species year-round. Wildlife biologists at Alberta Environment and Parks use the data to assess bird population trends and inform strategies to protect birds and their habitat. 

The Christmas Bird Count is a fun outdoor activity for the whole family to learn about birds and become active participants in wildlife conservation.

“The Christmas Bird Count is a great example of how everyday Albertans can play an important role in wildlife conservation. Thank you to the thousands of volunteers across the province who participate in this one-of-a-kind initiative.”

Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks

Although many birds migrate to warmer climates in the winter, you might be surprised to learn how many birds stick around all year long.  Although we are all familiar with the common winter species, such as chickadees, house finches, magpies and blue jays, the Christmas Bird Count uncovers a few more unusual winter gems. 

Quick facts

  • The Christmas Bird Count is now in its 120th year.
  • During the Christmas Bird Count, volunteers comb the surrounding forests, parks, backyards and back alleys for any sign of bird life.
  • The count continues all day, with teams out at night listening for nocturnal birds, such as the great horned owl – Alberta’s provincial bird.
  • Last year, there were 59 Christmas Bird Counts across Alberta.
  • Calgary recorded 73 bird species, which is 10 more species than the previous year.
  • Lethbridge recorded the highest number of Canada geese for a bird count circle in Canada at 29,459.
  • Sheep River recorded both the most Canada jays (160) and boreal chickadees (177) in Canada.
  • Over the last 10 years, bird counters in Edmonton found a bald eagle, belted kingfisher, a bufflehead (duck), and a chipping sparrow – not unusual birds for the spring and summer months, but not typically found braving our winters. 
  • Calgary has seen Wilson’s snipe and Steller’s jay – a bird more commonly found in British Columbia. 
  • Lethbridge has had the occasional bald eagle, greater white-fronted goose and red-tailed hawk. Last year, there was a small flock of wild turkeys.
  • There have also been highly sought-after sightings of gyrfalcons and snowy owls, species that birders in other parts of North America maybe only dream of seeing. 

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